Review by journalist Sharida Mohamedjoesoef
The Black Lord
Drum roll, please ...
It would probably be the understatement of the year to say that I liked The Black Lord, while in fact, it knocked my socks off. But what is the book about?
In a nutshell, we have this penniless Dutch governess who decides to try her luck in Surinam and accepts a teaching post, thinking she is doing her bit for civilisation. Her pupil is not some spoilt white Dutchie, but Walther Blackwell, a rich, free and coloured young man who turns out to be a Creole version of Mister Dandy himself: Oscar Wilde. And not just in terms of intelligent and sharp witted oneliners ...
Slowly, governess Regina, or Reggie, as she is affectionately called by her friends, transforms from a nobody into ... into what? In the meantime, tensions in Europe are rising. The abolitionist movement is gaining strength and in France people are taking to the streets to demand more rights. Slave owners in Surinam feel the growing pressure. Regina, too, has to face unexpected demons in her closet and make some tough decisions.
With The Black Lord, set against the backdrop of slavery in 19th century Surinam, a former Dutch colony in South America, Rihana Jamaludin has written a debut novel that would give Mister Charles Dickens a real run for his money. To begin with, there are these many exciting Dickensian twists and turns. Nothing is what it seems.
These cliffhangers are one thing. The theme of social reform is another. Dickens was known for his fierce criticism of poverty and social hierachy in Victorian society. In fact, in his second novel Oliver Twist (1839), the man shocked his readership with gruesome images of poverty and crime and children being victims rather than culprits. He humanised his characters.
This is exactly what Jamaludin has done in her novel The Black Lord. True, Cynthia Mcleod paved the way, but Jamaludin has taken it to a whole new level, molding and shaping her characters in great detail. They come alive on the page, as do the sights, sounds and smells of Surinam.
Through Jamaludin's characters we become witness to countless seemingly trivial examples of how deeply Surinamese society is immersed with and impacted by slavery. What's more, we get an insight into the delicate and intricate mechanisms of the underlying roots of slavery, namely the prime notion that one single race or one particular culture is actually better than the other.
Given the present political situation in the Netherlands with immigrants increasingly bearing the brunt for everything that is supposedly wrong in this country, it is not difficult to see certain parallels in 19th century Surinam versus 21st century Holland and the prevailing ideas in both societies. There is this cliche saying that history repeats itself and it is only a cliche, because we make it so.
Ladies and gentlemen, it seems we here have the perfect ingredients for a motion picture! The superb plot, the delicate themes, the crafty sentences. What can I say: sheer magic and a mind-blowing experience. Don't I have anything negative to say then? Oh well, if needs be: not enough pages! In my humble opinion, Rihana Jamaludin should be ordered by Dutch law to write at least one novel a year.
Wish to know more? Tune in later today on the site of Radio Stanvaste- Easter Monday 5th April - when Rihana Jamaludin will be interviewed in the programme Beautiful Words. The interview will be aired live through a webcam and viewers/listeners can ask questions via Stanvaste's chat channel.
By the way, wouldn't it be great if some cash-rich visionair would stand up, draw his wallet and order an English translation of this intriguing novel De Zwarte Lord. For the time being, should you wish to know more about The Black Lord and/or its writer, please go to rihanajamaludin.com
5 april 2010 sharida-mohamedjoesoef.blogspot.com